confectionery, delicacies or sweetmeats that have sugar as a principal ingredient, combined with coloring matter and flavoring and often with fruit or nuts. In the United States it is usually called candy, in Great Britain, sweets or boiled sweets. Nonchocolate candy is roughly divided into two classes, hard and soft; the distinction is based on the fact that sugar when boiled passes through definite stages during the process of crystallization. Fondant, or sugar cooked to the soft stage, is the basis of most fancy candies, such as chocolate creams.
Sweetmeats, long known in the Middle East and Asia and to the ancient Egyptians, were at first preserved or candied fruits, probably made with honey. One of the earliest functions of candy was to disguise unpleasant medicine, and prior to the 14th cent. confections were sold chiefly by physicians. Medieval physicians often used for this purpose sugarplate, a sweetmeat made of gum dragon, white sugar, and rosewater, beaten into a paste. One of the earliest confections still surviving is marzipan, known throughout Europe; it is made of almonds or other nuts, pounded to a paste and blended with sugar and white of egg. In the Middle Ages it was sometimes molded into fancy shapes and stamped with epigrams.
Sugarplums, made of boiled sugar, were known in England in the 17th cent., but it was not until the 19th cent. that candymaking became extensive. The display of British boiled sweets at the national exhibition of 1851 stimulated manufacture in other countries, especially in France. In the United States in the middle of the 19th cent. about 380 small factories were making lozenges, jujube paste, and stick candy, but most fine candy was imported. With the development of modern machinery and the increasing abundance of sugar, confectionery making became an important industry. In 2001, estimated retail sales of chocolate, other candy, and gum in the United States had reached $24 billion, and more 1,400 new items of candy were introduced.
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